In 1964, a "new" religion made its appearance -- Eckankar, The Ancient
Science of Soul Travel (Eck). Eck was founded by Paul Twitchell, a journalist,
eccentric occult dabbler, and self-proclaimed soldier of fortune. In 1964 and l965, he
wrote articles and gave lectures on his peculiar philosophy of "Biolocation," or
supposed out-of-body travels. He evolved the philosophy and practice of Eck out of this
experience and from studying the teachings of Ruhani Satsung, Scientology, and several
other religious and occult groups. Twitchell, who was born in Paducah, Kentucky sometime
between 1908 and 1912, and died in 1971, asserted that Eck did not actually begin in 1964,
but rather was a timeless and universal Truth which had been "revived" for
public dissemination at that time.
Eck's membership is estimated at approximately 50,000, but there are supposedly about 3 million "followers" throughout the world. It was originally centered in Las Vegas, Nevada, but after Twitchell's death and the coming to power of Darwin Gross, the group moved to Menlo Park, California. Its main headquarters are currently in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but Eck also has active works in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and Africa. Eck's authoritative books are An Introduction to Eckankar and Eckankar: The Key to Secret Worlds, both written by Twitchell. Eck also publishes a monthly publication, Eck World News.
Twitchell sensed that he had hit upon a winning combination with Eck, proclaiming himself the unique incarnation of God on earth (i.e., the "Living Eck Master"), insisting that only through him and his movement could an individual find truth and salvation. Eck embodies almost all of the characteristics of a "made in America" cult religion -- a recent vintage eclectic movement, combining occult philosophy and mystical experience, big money, misrepresentation of origins, rampant spiritism, manifestations of psychic phenomena, virtual veneration of the leader as God, syncretism, indoctrination, and a form of attempted mind control -- not to mention the standard "esoteric gap," that is, the difference between the image the group projects to the public and the inner truths revealed to initiates. Eck has gone from (literally) nothing to a highly systematized belief system with a large corporate bureaucracy and an in-residence "God-man" as its leader.
Eckankar presents itself as the most ancient teaching known to mankind. It is referred
to as "The Path of Total Awareness." Below are the highlights of what Eckankar
believes concerning its source(s) of authority, God, sin and salvation, Christ, spiritual
practice, the Kingdom of Heaven, reincarnation, and prayer*:
1. Source of Authority. The current Living Eck Master -- "the MAHANTA, the Vi-Guru, the Light-Giver, the Way Shower, the protector, guide and companion of every ECK chela" -- is the Eckist's sole authority for Eckankar doctrine. Eck also has its own Scriptures, The Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad, which state that "the faith that one has in the Mahanta must be that of complete understanding and surrender." The "Word of God" in Eckankar is also known as "Shabda, Basni" -- it is the Eckist's security, and "should one have this Word of God flowing from the temple within himself, then he should be protected from bad experiences."
2. Eck Master. Eckankar teaches that few religious disciplines are able to transcend the lower states, due to ignorance and the error of their way. Only through "soul travel," which is supposedly a superior and exclusive form of out-of-the-body experience, is one able to flow upward (or inward) through the various realms in hopes of eventually reaching the Sugmad, which exists as pure formless essence on the topmost plane. And the only way to succeed is by submitting totally to the guidance of the Living Eck Master, or Mahanta, who plugs the chela (learner or student) into the cosmic current. [This "current," known simply as the Eck, ostensibly flows out from, and back into, the Sugmad. Eckists say it can be heard as sound and seen as light; thus with the help of the Mahanta, other spirit guides (i.e., demons), and two of his five senses, the chela learns to flow with the Eck up through the various "God Worlds," gradually attaining enlightenment and spiritual maturity along the way.]
When Living Eck Master Paul Twitchell died in 1971, his wife, Gail, claimed that Twitchell came to her in a dream and told her that Darwin Gross was to succeed him as the new Mahanta. Gail did as she was told and named Gross the new Mahanta. She then married him in October 1972. Gross described himself as "the only man ever manifested in all of history in whom individualism and universalism are combined in their full expression." (Gross was obviously not to be outdone in his claims by Twitchell.) The Grosses were to have a short marriage. Five years later they were divorced. At the suggestion of his advisory council, Gross resigned as the only "God-man" in October of 1981, and was replaced by the current "Living Eck Master," Sri Harold Klemp. This particular God-man was born in Wisconsin.
Klemp and his predecessors are considered to be Mahantas -- one step above the normal Eck Masters. A Living Eck Master is held so high that Eckists seem to put him equal with God. Twitchell said this of the Living Eck Master: "The Living Eck Master is the only man, should I say being, who is capable of manifesting both individuals and universalism in their full expressions. He is law unto himself, does what he pleases, has what he wants, comes and goes absolutely at his own will, and asks no favors of any man." Sir Darwin Gross suggested that "self-surrender" by everyone to the Living Eck Master's "radiant form" is the key to spiritual success. An Eck Master, then, turns out to be nothing but a standard avatar, a routine "savior" who "incarnates" to instruct humanity, reputedly being able to lift people out of the cycle of death and rebirth if they submit to him in total faith, submission, and self-negation.
3. God. Twitchell realized early on that if he was going to create a new religion, he had to conjure up a new concept of God to go with it. He used methods of eclectic cross-fertilization in his effort to come up with a new hybrid, blending together monism and pantheism, with a touch of monotheism to give his theology some character. The final product is a confused, crippled, and impotent deity which he indifferently labels "It." Like most hybrids, Eck's "God" is sterile, incapable of producing new life. If anything, it is a throwback to the primitive fear religions of the animistic and pagan cultures.
The "God" of Eckankar (Sugmad) does not manifest as a personality. Consequently, seeking, knowing, or desiring to comprehend God in personal terms is impossible; indeed, it may be impossible in any terms. Twitchell writes that "we do not, and cannot, know God. ... God itself is realized by the very cessation of all seeking and by dropping of the mind. ... You will never find God by searching for Him. He is here and now within you! So never search. Just realize this!"
Sugmad is a pantheistic god described by Eck as "progressive Self-realization or God-realization." Eck teaches that God is all things, and more significantly, that God is not separate from his creation. Twitchell wrote: "There is nothing in the universe that is not the SUGMAD, the everlasting ECK." By this logic, then, Eck is forced to pin the universe's flaws and problems upon its own "God," and grudgingly admits that it is the Sugmad's "lower natures" that generate negativity. (In Twitchell's book, The Tiger's Fang, Sugmad is described as being ignorant, internally inconsistent, in need of wisdom and education, negative, unawakened, wondering, poor, unhappy, not content with "his" creation, and in need of assistance.) Eck tries to evade this dilemma by teaching that the dynamic which makes evil operative is a form of free will, which when abused, spawns "ignorance," leading to a lack of God-realization in the self.
4. Sin. Eck does not adhere to the concept of "original sin." Eck believes this about sin: "The idea of man born in sin is one of the oldest pitfalls which the Kal Niranjan ("Kal" for short -- Eck terminology for the negative force of the cosmos, otherwise identified by Eck as "the Devil") could plan for keeping Soul in ignorance of Its true glory. ... All the doctrines of man born in sin, to be purified by the appearance of a messiah who dies for man's sins, is that of a Kalistic belief." (Eck does not endorse or uphold Christian morals concerning sexual behavior. Also, Eck does not believe this Soul enters the body of an unborn child; thus, they have no problem with abortion.)
5. Salvation. Twitchell said that "Eck is the highest of all paths to God. ... there is no other way to gain spiritual enlightenment." He sweepingly pronounces that "belief in anything except the Eck is false. ... ECKANKAR is the only direct path to God. ... All other paths are only stepping stones into the Astral plane. ... belief in anything except the Eck is false ... it is not possible to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven except through the teachings of ECKANKAR."
6. Jesus Christ. Eck does not recognize any authenticity of the "virgin-birth." Twitchell stated that "Kal is the Jehovah of the Jewish faith and the Father of the Christian teachings. ... Therefore, we really see [Jesus] as a son of Kal Niranjan, king of the lower worlds." Thus, in Eck, the Bible, the entire structure of its moral teachings, and Jesus Christ Himself are identified with the evil power of the cosmos -- in a word, with the Devil!
7. Spiritual Practice. The primary means of spiritual unfoldment practiced by Eck is soul travel or out-of-the-body experiences. Five of the major techniques used are: (1) imaginative projection, (2) meditation, (3) projection via the dream state, (4) trance, and (5) direct projection (intentionally willing one's consciousness to be in another location). Mantras are frequently chanted and contact with spirit guides is practiced as well. Almost all forms and types of occult/mystical consciousness alteration come into play. Trance states and spiritism are encouraged from the outset in Eck spiritual practice, but the experience grows more esoteric as the Eckist travels up through "the realms." There are ten initiations -- one for advancement to each plane. They are generally given yearly and are considered the basic "sacrament" of Eckankar.
The chela finds himself going through thirty-two varied, but unique, phases of "spiritual unfoldment." These are sometimes called the gift of Spirit, or the "essence of the ECK." Some of the most significant are mediumship, E.S.P., telepathy, mind reading, clairvoyance, speaking in unknown tongues, magic, cosmic consciousness, telekinetic powers, alchemy, and weather control. When one finally reaches this "upper level," he merges with the Absolute and becomes a "coworker" with God. He becomes part of God, and there is nothing in the universe that is not Sugmad (God) or the everlasting "ECK."
8. Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven to which Twitchell refers is a
cosmic layer cake of eleven different realms or planes. Strictly speaking, only the upper
six planes are "heavenly," the lower five being ruled by the negative
God-forces, especially by a cruel buffoon named Kal Niranjan, who supposedly causes all
the familiar woes and confusion we experience here on Earth Plane, or First Plane. The
second realm, known popularly as the Astral Plane, gives rise to all the garden varieties
of occultic and psychic phenomena -- from deceitful spirits to flying saucers and
out-of-the-body astral projection experiences.
9. Reincarnation. According to Eck, as souls live their lives and make both conscious and "unconscious" choices, they accrue karma and karmic debt. Souls must then pay for or work off negative karma acquired through wrong action, either in this life or a previous one. In Eck, the individual soul must go through seemingly endless rounds of reincarnations to work off karma, taking millions of years and millions of reincarnations as the soul rises up the evolutionary scale of life. Eck teaches that the soul enters the universe as a mineral, then works its way up through plant, fish, reptile, and mammal incarnations, eventually becoming human, where it will spend any number of lifetimes until it attains spiritual enlightenment. [Twitchell claimed to have entered the lower universe as an unspecified mineral eight million years ago, and supposedly got off the "Wheel of 84" (meaning no more reincarnations) when he "translated" (Eckese for "died") in 1971.] The shortcut to God-realization is to meet and follow the Living Eck Master, whose presence will burn away eons of karmic debt, freeing the soul from the endless rebirths on the "Wheel of 84."
10. Prayer. Eck believes the Biblical concept of intercessory prayer is an "occult" technique.
*Most of the material in this report was derived from three sources: (1) SCP Journal, September 1979; (2) The DISCERNER, 2Q1992; and (3) Mount Carmel Outreach Newsletter, November 1996.